MLewyn's blog

Property vs. Sales Taxes

The first CNU 21 speech I went to was by attorney Craig Galli, who briefly outlined the history of Salt Lake City.  He pointed out that one of the region's problems was the dependence of local cities on sales taxes; to attract tax revenue, local governments need to attract sales-generating retailers.  As a result, the region became oversupplied with big box stores, some of which are now vacant due to competition from other big box stores.

What The Height Limits Debate Is Really About

It seems to me that the debate among new urbanist/smart growth types about height limits for office buildings* is really about one question: if businesses can't find enough office space in a low-rise business district, will they:

1.  move a few blocks away, thus improving a neighborhood adjacent to downtown?

2.  move to a suburb with more lenient height restrictions or cheaper land?

This story is strong, but anecdotal, evidence for view 2. 

 

Suburban Poverty? So What?

Because of the release of a new book about the growth of poverty in the suburbs,  there has been all sorts of chatter on Twitter and the urbanist blogosphere about the growth of suburban poverty.  Obviously, poverty anywhere is not a good thing.  But as long as there is poverty, is it such a terrible thing that some poor people now live in suburbs?

Speed Bumps Are Not All Bad

I have generally been pretty skeptical of speed bumps (also known as "speed humps"); they can be harmful to cars, but don't do as much to calm traffic as some other techniques.

How (Some) Drivers Suffer From One-Way Streets

Generally, supporters of a less car-dependent society are critical of one-way streets, while supporters of the sprawl status quo favor them. 

But I have a somewhat different perspective after driving around downtown Atlanta today.  I drove there to do an errand for my mother, and the maze of one-way streets added 10 minutes to my drive time, as I searched in vain for a southbound street to get me home.  So it seems to me that one-way streets are actually inconvenient for someone who has business downtown and is trying to navigate his or her way home.

The Homeownership Myth

One common myth about American sprawl is that it is somehow related to Americans' support for homeownership.  But in fact, Americans are more likely to rent than residents of many other countries: 33 percent of us do so, as opposed to 26 percent of EU residents, 22 percent of New Zealanders, and 30 percent of Australians and British.  (Denmark's rental rate is about the same as ours).

The Myth of Overcrowding

Last week, I had a conversation with a faculty colleague about densification in Manhattan.  He said he visited Philadelphia, and he liked Philadelphia better because it wasn't so crowded.  

But I responded that Manhattan wasn't as crowded as he thought it was.  To be sure, there are a few places in Manhattan (especially at certain times) that are very crowded indeed- in particular, the blocks closest to Penn Station.  When I get off a train and get into the station during rush hour, I am met by the New York stereotype- a sea of people.

More Density for Bigger Cities

I recently have noticed lots of comments in blogs and listservs on ideal densities.  But the ideal density for a city or a neighborhood (if there is such a thing) depends on context.
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Why?  The smaller the city, the less density you need for walkability.

Documenting NIMBYism

Because much of the literature on anti-density "exclusionary zoning" involves suburbs, you might think that cities tend to favor development and density.  But according to a recent paper by Vicki Been of NYU Law, this is not the case.  The study examines rezonings proposed by the New York Department of City Planning, and shows that the city downzones property more often than it upzones. 

Are The Poor Being Forced Into Suburbia?

I recently read a blog post explaining that smart growth and urban infill are not so smart because it forces poor people into suburbia.  The logic behind this claim is, as far as I can tell, as follows: 1) infill means rising real estate values in cities, (2) rising real estate values means people can't afford to live there, and (3) therefore smart growth shunts the poor into suburbs.